A History of the Guild Players

Based on a presentation given by Duncan Currie at the Guild's 60th Anniversary Dinner at 81 Beach St, Deal, July 25th 2015

Beginnings (1955)

The origins of the Guild are as a group within the congregation of St George’s Church who had the idea to start a drama group. It was very much within a church context then that: The inaugural meeting of the St. George's Church Theatrical Society was held in the vestry of St. George's Church on April 26th 1955 at 7:30 pm. A committee of 7 was formed under the Chairmanship of the Reverend Lionel Hart, the vicar of St. George's Church, Deal, whose suggestion to alter the name of the Society to St. George's Church Drama Guild was approved unanimously. An annual membership fee of 2s/6d was set. The church origins and various church ties of the Guild have been an important aspect of their development and sometimes of their struggles.

The first 5 years (1956 to 1959)

With Rev Hart as Chairman. About 10 months after its foundation the very first production was Beauty and the Beast (1) a play, performed on Thu 2nd to Sat 4th February 1956 at St. George's Hall, in aid of The Hall Fund. For many years there was a charitable aspect to the productions and the list of causes that were supported is varied and interesting from a social history point of view. This began the association with St George’s Hall which had stood on its present site – a church building, since 1939. It had been combined with what is now the dance studio and had been collectively called Hardman Hall.

Interestingly, the Guild had a false start as described by Gill Watson.

“In the report of our first ever play it mentions the St George’s Players. I have to say that they got too big for their boots, broke away from the church and only lasted a few years. Mean time the church just started up another group, us! We were originally called St George’s Church Drama Group) and we’re still going strong! There’s got to be a moral here somewhere”

Rev Hart said that “the Guild was still in the bud, and he wished them a blooming future. He thought they had put on an extraordinarily good show for their first attempt”. The reviewer agreed with this assessment.

The Guild got off to a flying start after that 1st production with no fewer than 14 more before the 1950’s ended, 3 more the same year 1956: Ladies in Retirement (2), Aubrey Writes a Book (3), The last show of the year was Christmas with St Frances (4). Performed in December in aid of The Church of England Children’s Society it had a religious theme as did many productions in those early years.

In 1957 there was Kind Cousin (5), on behalf St. George's Hall Debt Fund, On with the Motley (6), The Paper Chain (7), and The Lantern (8). In 1958 there was The Foolish Gentlewoman (9), The Blue Goose (10), and The Heiress (11). The decade finished off (1959) with Sailor Beware (12), a reprise of Ladies in Retirement (13), and After my Fashion (14). The latter 2 were performed as part of The 1st summer Drama Festival. The Deal Drama Festival continued for 13 years until 1971, and the Guild seems to have had a prominent part in them. They were both performed in The Astor, so this was the first time The Guild were at what is now our current home. The final production of the year, and the decade, was Tabitha (15). During this period began the process of creating Honorary Vice Presidents of the Guild, in recognition of members who had contributed to the Guild over a long period. This office was abolished in the early part of the 21st Century. Some important people in the Guild during this early period were Conrad Sherwin, Dorrie Sherwin, Brenda Harvey, Doris Cohen, Mollie Fitzgerald, and Clare Bradshaw.

The First Decade and Tony (1960 to 1964)

At the turn of the 1960’s The Guild started with The Gift (16), in aid of the Refugee Fund, performed at The Astor, followed by This Happy Home (17), and rounding off the year with another crack at Sailor Beware (18), which was a popular comedy of the time. The latter 2 were part of the 2nd summer Drama Festival at the Astor. The Guild has never had any problem with repeating shows and this has occurred many times over the years. A few were repeated 3 times. The pace slackened off in 1961 with only 2 shows: Bride Unknown (19), and Find the Girl (20). There is a 2013 note from the a Guild chronicler Mike Quinton: “One gathers the impression that personnel problems or non-availability began to take their toll late in 1960 and continued until Tony Kilshawe brought new life in 1963 (which may explain the lack of meeting minutes)”. In 1962 there were again only 2 shows: Watch it Sailor (21) and The Lullaby (22).

The year 1963 was a momentous one for the Guild with the arrival of Tony Kilshawe. He moved to Deal after a successful stage career and lived in Keppel Cottage, 146 Middle St. He was involved with The Guild Players from 1963 up to his death in 1978. His arrival was something of a landmark event in The Guild Players’ history and he rapidly became the driving force inspiring it to continually raise the standard, scope and sheer number of productions. He transformed The Guild from a very modest church-related group with limited aspirations to a much more serious minded organisation with ambitions to be the very best it possibly could. He was at the forefront of everything The Guild did and was often the Director and the lead actor. During the 1960’s and 1970’s there were seldom fewer than 4 productions a year, rising to 6 in the 2 years after his arrival (1964 and 1965) and reaching an astonishing peak of 7 in 1967.

The first show with Tony in charge was One Wild Oat (23)

In 1950 Tony Kilshawe took the part of Humphrey Proudfoot in a touring production of the hit West-End farce One Wild Oat. In this role he replaced Robertson (Bunny) Hare, a very well-known actor of the period. The 1951 film version of this play with Bunny Hare and Stanley Holloway included a pre stardom Audrey Hepburn in her first uncredited screen role as a hotel receptionist. The tour was an enormous success with records broken at several theatres and the play transferred to repertory and with Tony Kilshawe appearing as a guest star in several of those productions. He also toured with a production of Will Any Gentleman?, again playing the part made famous by Bunny Hare, and with perhaps even more success than with One Wild Oat.

Also in 1963 we had Winter Sunshine (24). Despite this coming off the back of a brave new chapter in Guild history there were a few hiccups because this show is associated with perhaps The Guild’s most striking review – headlined “Prompt had main Part” and went on as follows:

It is disturbing for the audience when the prompter is almost regarded as one of the players, as was the case in Winter Sunshine, a comedy presented by The Guild Players of St. George’s Church, Deal. The audience showed this when the play opened at St. George’s Hall on Thursday evening, by its uninhibited guffaws at the prompter’s efforts to keep the play going. Tony Kilshawe as Captain Morgan, the ship’s commander, had an embarrassing moment when two of the other players off-stage failed to take a cue. After repeating the line twice he finally said oh come on. They took that cue. The play was nonetheless enjoyable and it would be quite fair to describe it as a comedy of errors.

From 1964 throughout the rest of the 1960’s the rate of Guild productions increased greatly with Tony Kilshawe very much in charge.

There were 6 productions in 1964: The aptly named Full Steam Ahead (25) in January, the only Guild production performed in Wellesley Hall, was followed by JB Priestley’s The Linden Tree (26) in April, I Was a Stranger (27) in May. Will any Gentleman? (28) in July/Aug, Present Laughter (29) in November, in the Astor and in aid the Deal, Walmer & Kingsdown Amateur Rowing Club, and finishing the year with On Monday Next (30). For this show St George’s Hall was renamed The Little Theatre.

The Guild Comes of Age (1965 to 1969)

There were also 6 productions in 1965: Breath of Spring (31) was followed by The Giaconda Smile (32), followed by a rather special production called Merrie England (33) which was an outside production using Deal Castle as a backdrop. It was dogged by indifferent weather and was postponed a couple of times. That show was produced by kind permission of The Minister of Public Buildings and Works. There followed productions for the summer drama festival stuff in the Astor: Goodnight Mrs Puffin (34), and Yes and No (35), the latter by Kenneth Horne, a household name in radio comedy at the time, in support of Deal and District Old People's Welfare Council. The final production of the year was For Services Rendered (36). In this year the Guild created its first constitution. There were 4 productions in 1966: Waiting in the Wings (37), The Late Edwina Black (38), The Yeoman of the Guard (39), again at Deal Castle by kind permission of those men at the ministry, and the still popular Am Dram choice When we are Married (40). In 1966 it was decided to purchase shields for future awards to outstanding actors and actresses or outstanding services to The Guild to be presented at the Annual Dinner, a practice which continued until Tony’s death. There was a record breaking 7 Guild shows in 1967: 3 1-Act Plays (41) at the Methodist Hall, George and Margaret (42), Gentleman Don’t! (43), in aid of Deal Hospital, Wild Horses (44), as part of Deal Corporation’s Summer Playhouse at the Astor, Fools Paradise (45), at The Astor with a group called The Elizabethans, a collaboration of Deal Dramatic Societies. The penultimate show of the year was Cranford (46), which was the Guild’s only production at the Globe Theatre, within the Royal Marine barracks which was subsequently controversially following the closure of the Royal Marines Music School. The final show of the year was Springtime for Henry (47). There were 6 productions 1968: Lover’s Leap (48), The Vigil (49), Busy Body (50) at the Astor, Sailor Beware (51), for a third time, at the Astor as part of the Drama Festival, Mr Sampson (52), 1 performance only, and Blithe Spirit (53), at the Astor. There were 4 productions in 1969: Sister Gold (54), at the Methodist Hall, a reprise of the very first production Beauty and the Beast (55), then a topical title Round the Moon (56), which was put on, at the Astor, while the successful Apollo 11 Mission to the moon took place. The review reported:

“A very good opening to the town’s season of amateur productions and well worth seeing. It is on again tonight (Thursday), and for the next two days. I fear they may get some competition from the American astronauts on television, but I highly recommend a short break from the moon spectacular to see Ring Round the Moon for a few hours lighter entertainment.”

The final production of the decade was Relatively Speaking (57), by Alan Ayckbourn – the Guild’s first effort by this playwright. This production was also at the Astor and was in aid of The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (Deal & Sandwich Branch). Some important people in the Guild during this decade were many of the same founder members with the notable addition of Tony Kilshawe. Another notable contributor was Molly Boyce.

Life on Mars (1970 to 1974)

1970 started off with Vixen in Surrey (58), written by Tony Kilshawe, followed by On Monday Next (59), a reprise of the 1964 show which was also Gill Watson’s debut. Gill, and her husband Ken, were major figures in the Guild until she began her phased retirement from the Guild between 2002 and 2005. The year continued with Murder Mistaken (60), and then finished with Dinner with the Family (61), at the Astor in aid of St. Alban's House Development Fund. In 1971 the Deal Drama Festival ended. There were 6 shows that year: Friendly Relations (62), Good Friday (63), The Hollow Crown (64), All for Mary (65), Fools Rush In (66), and She Stoops to Conquer (67). This year Rev Jones retired and the new President was Rev Peter Bowers. In 1972 there were 6 productions: Elevenses/Mother’s Day (68), 2 short plays, The Man Most Likely To (69), The Heiress (70), again, Time and the Conways (71), another JB Priestley play which remains popular, The Witnesses (72), and finally Lord of the Amber Mountain (73). There was a summer party this year at Tony Kilshawe’s house. In 1973 there were 5 shows: Treasure Hunt (74), for the friends of the blind, The Vigil (75), again, Trap for a Lonely Man (76), in aid of the Scouts, Distinguished Gathering (77), at the Astor, and finally The Business of Good Government (78). At the end of this year the Little Theatre was renovated. There were 5 productions in 1974: Escapade (79), followed by The Diary of Anne Frank (80), which was the debut for Sue Watson, The Secretary Bird (81), Black Chiffon (82), and finally How the Other Half Loves (83), in aid of Guide Dogs. This year The Guild started up its youth theatre run by Jim Smith with help from other Guild members.

The Kilshawe Theatre (1975 to 1979)

In 1975 there were 4 productions: Candida (84), Spring and Port Wine (85), The Man who Came to Dinner (86), and Rose Without a Thorn (87). All these were performed at The Little Theatre and there were no charitable collections. In 1976, there were 4 productions: Lloyd George Knew my Father (88), Photo Finish (89), When we are Married (90), again, and Toad of Toad Hall (91). Tony Kilshawe gave a wonderful Dinner Dance at the Clarendon to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the Guild. The Guild came of age and it was an enormous success. The next year, 1977, began with Love from a Stranger (92). It was planned to perform A Cup of Trembling (93) but this show was postponed twice then cancelled. Because all the work was done for it, this production is included in the list as a virtual show. The year ended with The Manor of Northstead (94). 1978 opened with Who Killed Santa Claus? (95) in January and continued with The Chalk Garden (96) in March. On 09 May 1978 Tony Kilshawe died, which was a great blow to all concerned with the Guild. The year ended by repeating Goodnight Mrs Puffin (97).That show was the debut of Christopher Sewell who together with his brothers Richard and Tony and later Christopher’s children Vanessa, Justine and Nathan had a large influence in the Guild for the next 25 years.

In December 1978 an Extraordinary Guild Players Meeting decided that, as a tribute and memorial to him, the theatre name would be formally changed from The Little Theatre to The Kilshawe Theatre. This was the name of our theatre up until we had to leave St George's Hall in 2014 in recognition of an inspirational and much loved figure and an acknowledgement that without Tony Kilshawe's significant involvement with The Guild Players at a crucial early stage it most likely would have faded away like most small amateur theatre groups inevitably do. Although no-one currently involved in the group met Tony, we always proudly erected The Kilshawe Theatre sign above the door of St George's Hall during our show week. Now that we perform our shows in The Astor Community Theatre, we can no longer change the venue name during our show runs, however Tony's legacy and values remain important to The Guild.

The Guild might have folded at this point and it is a tribute to those left behind that they picked themselves up and pressed on into the future. At this time the Chairman was Alan Cresswell who after 2 years gave way to Alex Thomson who was chairman up to 1986 (5 years). Alan and his wife Glenys were important figures in the Guild at this time. Alan remained an active Vice President until the first years of the 21st Century when the office was abolished.

There were 3 productions in 1979: Noah (98), the first outing for a show called Put that Light Out! (99), a series of wartime songs sung in costume written by a Guild member Molly Coldecott. The 1970’s were neatly rounded off with the Guild’s 100th show A Christmas Evening with The Guild (100). What could be nicer? Some other important people in the Guild during this decade were Vera and Peter Eckersley.

The Early Eighties (1980 to 1984)

The arrival of the 1980’s saw the number of productions begin to stabilise to 2 or 3 a year. There were 2 productions in 1980: Tabitha (101), again, followed by The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner (102), in aid of The East Kent Hospice Project. In 1981 there was Who’s Who (103), and Make Believe (104), Justine Sewell’s debut. This year saw Rev Peter Bowers replaced as President by Rev Eric Smith. In 1982, there were 3 productions: Sheppey (105), The White Sheep of the Family (106), and The Owl and the Pussycat Went to See (107). In 1983 there were 4 productions, Spring and Port Wine (108), An Inspector Calls (109), 3 1 Act Play from Confusions (110), and Listen to the Wind (111). In 1984, there were 3 productions: Gaslight (112), Bedroom Farce (113), and Old Father Time (114), the latter was the debut of Nathan Sewell.

The Late Eighties (1985 to 1989)

In 1985 there was the Mini Drama Festival (115), in collaboration with The Deal Dramatic Society, St. Margarets’ Players, The Temple Ewell Players, Lyminge Players, and The Dour Players. This was the debut of Linda Mewes. This show was followed by They Came to a City (116), Outside Edge (117), and Toad of Toad Hall (118), again. This year Rev Eric Smith retired as President and was replaced by Rev George Lings. In 1986 there were 3 productions: Twelfth Night (119), the only time The Guild has attempted Shakespeare and it produced this review:

“Guild brings the Bard to Deal - Twelfth Night was sumptuously dressed and the Director was traditional in his approach. This ambitious production gives amateur theatre a new high”.

This production was followed by A Ghost on Tiptoe (120), in aid of The Martha Trust, and There was an Old Woman (121), the latter the debut for Mike Rivarno. This year Alex Thomson gave way briefly to Doris Cohen as Chairman who in turn gave way to Christopher Sewell. The constitution was amended to include the Junior Guild, run by Alex and Kath Thomson. In 1987 there were 3 productions: 3 Plays for Pleasure (122), Fingers (123), and The Jungle Book (124). The juniors gave money to the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster fund. In 1988 there were 3 productions: Bitter Sanctuary (125), followed by Old Time Music Hall (126), and The Owl and the Pussycat Went to See (127), again. 1989 began with The Roses of Eyam (128). This was a successful collaboration with Deal Dramatic Society the theatre company then at the Astor, since disbanded. The 1980’s ended with The Water Babies (129), in aid of the Royal Marines Disaster Fund. This year the constitution was amended again. Doris Cohen, a founding member, retired and became a Vice President, and Alex and Kath Thomson left the Guild. Important people in the Guild during this decade were The Watson and Sewell families, Alex Thomson, Kath Thompson, Doris Cohen, Stephanie Walmsley (also known as Stevie), Christine Eyden, and Roger Brown.

Thirty Five Years (1990 to 1994)

The 1990’s started with Gigi (130) and continued with 84 Charing Cross Rd (131) and Peter Pan (132), which had a very big cast. This year Christine Eyden’s held a party to celebrate 35 years of the Guild. In 1991 the Guild’s produced its first genuine musical with My Fair Lady (133), a big production directed by Richard Sewell, which according to Gill was “a resounding success” followed by Stepping Out (134) and A Christmas Carol (135). The year 1992 began with the rather sad 2 hander When the Wind Blows (136), which was followed by the more jolly The Boyfriend (137), the 2nd musical in as many years. In 1993, Put that Light Out! (138) was given another outing, followed by Doctor in the House (139), and Listen to the Wind (140). This year Christine Eyden became Chairman and remained so until 1998. She had been with the group a long time and was subsequently awarded an MBE for general good works with the community. The year 1994 was rather bleak for the Guild because there was a major fire at St George’s Hall in the February. The council provided a £500 grant for repairs. The next show Shadowlands (141) had to be performed at The Astor and the last show of the year Put that Light Out! (142), again, was performed at Dover Town Hall with the assistance of Dover District Council as Part of the Frontline Britain commemorations.

Forty Years (1995 to 1999)

In 1995 the Guild returned to the repaired St George’s Hall’s and bought new lighting board. The first production of the year was Charley’s Aunt (143), followed by Night Must Fall (144), and Aladdin (145), the latter was the Guild’s first genuine Pantomime. Coralie Kavanagh joined at this time and looked after publicity for a while. Her husband Paul was also involved. This year Stephanie Young (now Brenchley) hosted a 40th anniversary party. There were 3 productions in 1996: She Stoops to Conquer (146), Private Lives (147), and the pantomime Mother Goose (148). Mary Kettlyle joined the Guild this year as did her daughter Kate Hibbert a couple of years later. In 1997 there were 3 productions: The Importance of Being Earnest (149), Blithe Spirit (150), again, and the pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk (151). This year Rev Lings gave way to Rev Spencer as President. There were 3 productions in 1998: Curtain up on Murder (152), Dear Brutus (153), and the pantomime Cinderella (154). This year Bettine Walters became Chairman In 1999 there were 3 productions: Pull the Other One (155), Stagestruck (156), and the pantomime Dick Whittington (157). This year Bettine Walters gave way to Sue Watson as Chairman. With help from a £700 grant, the Guild erected a shed at the rear of St George’s Hall which remained there until 2016. Annual Dinners during this period were held at The Hare and Hounds at Northbourne. Some important people in the Guild during this decade were the Watson and Sewell families, Charles Bailey, Christine Eyden, Bettine Walters, Pip Piacentino, Claire Middleton, Peter Ryder, Lei Cobb, Coralie Kavanagh, Stephanie Walmsley (also known as Stevie), and Stephanie Young (now Brenchley).

Millenium Years (2000 to 2004)

The new millennium opened with Play On! (158), Sharon Sewell’s debut, followed by Gaslight (159), again, and the pantomime Goldilocks (160), debuts for Debbie Pinfold and Angela Jeffrey. Ann and Nick Nettleship hosted a party. There were 2 productions in 2001, the musical Me and My Girl (161), debuts for Duncan Currie and George Elder and the pantomime The Adventures of Robin Hood! (162). There was a successful quiz night to raise funds. In 2002, there were 3 productions: Deadly Nightcap (163), a music and sketch show Big Time (164), and the pantomime Sleeping Beauty (165). The latter show was the first time with Richard McPherson as our pianist. The Guild bought a keyboard, which was sold to the Astor in 2015. This year Sue Watson retired from the Guild at the same time as her mother Gill and gave way to Duncan Currie as Chairman. There was a major rewrite of the constitution. There were 3 productions in 2003: Whose Life is it Anyway? (166), featuring Charles Bain Smith and a debut for David Carter, followed by Hobson’s Choice (167) and the memorable The Wizard of Oz (168), the first production where an attempt was made to film it. In 2004, there were 3 productions: The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society Murder (169), followed by the 1-Act play In Need of Care (170), a repeat of 1 of the 1 act plays presented in 1983. This production was combined with music from a string ensemble in a sit-down dinner format. The last show of the year was Frankenstein the Panto (171), a debut for Fred Sawyer. About this time the Sewell family left the Guild form the now disbanded East Kent Theatre Company. Important people in this period were the Watsons and Sewell families, Debbie Pinfold, Duncan Currie, George Elder, Mike Martin, Neil Hornsey, Gail and Wayne Pointon, Ann and Nick Nettleship, Fred Sawyer, Angela Jeffery, Mary Kettyle, Kate Hibbert, Linda Mewes, Charles Bain Smith, and Peter Ryder.

Golden Anniversary (2005 to 2009)

In 2005 there were 3 productions: Cider with Rosie (172) followed by Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime (173), and the pantomime Beauty and The Beast (174). The Guild obtained a grant to purchase a follow-spot and the constitution was amended again to remove the free ticket perk of membership. A 50th Anniversary Party was held in a venue in Kingsdown. There were 3 productions in 2006: the Victorian Melodrama East Lynne – or Never Call me Mother (175), followed by another in the Farndale series The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s The Haunted Through Lounge and Recessed Dining Nook at Farndale Castle (176), the longest title of any Guild show and an entirely female cast. The final production of the year was A Christmas Carol (177), the first of an unbroken sequence of filmed productions to produce DVDs for sale to the cast, as a unique souvenir, to raise funds. In 2007 there were only 2 productions: Play On! (178), again, followed by the very successful pantomime Cinderella (179). There were also only 2 productions in 2008: Mort (180), based on the Terry Pratchett novel, and the pantomime Aladdin (181). This year marked the first attempt to produce an online presence for the Guild. Duncan gave way to Mary Kettyle as Chairman In 2009 there were again only 2 productions: Time of my Life (182), which contained the first genuine swear word heard on a Guild stage, followed by Treasure Island (183), which included the loudest special effect bang ever heard on a Guild stage. This production was the only time when 3 performances were staged on the same day. This year we obtained a £3000 lottery grant to purchase a sound and lighting control system. Some important people in the Guild during this period were Gail and Wayne Pointon, George Elder, Debbie Pinfold, Duncan Currie, Bliss Wilson, Fred Sawyer, Faye Rye, Caroline Venner, Lynne Frackleton, Anne Henson, Angela Jeffery, and David Carter.

Keeping Going (2010 to 2014)

The year 2010 was a year when the Guild was not able to produce any shows. Mary Kettyle gave way to Debbie Pinfold as Chairman and the constitution was amended to simplify it and sever the final links with the Church. Drowning on Dry Land (184) was the only show produced in 2011 and the Kent Air Ambulance became the Guild’s official charity. There were 2 productions in 2012: RolePlay (185) and the pantomime Hansel and Gretel (186). The website underwent a significant upgrade and we joined Facebook. The Guild obtained a DDC grant of £1450 which was spent on new lighting and sound equipment. Ghost Writer (187), was the only production in 2013. It was an artistic success but, despite large publicity efforts, the audience size was modest. This had become a recurring problem in recent years and, coupled to practical and political considerations with continued use of St George’s Hall, it was decided that The Guild’s future may be best served by relocating to The Astor Community Theatre. Our final show at The Kilshawe Theatre was Murder Weapon (188) in April 2014. The Guild obtained another DDC grant of £1000 which was spent on a smoke machine and pyrotechnic firing equipment. Some important people in the Guild during this period were Debbie Pinfold, Duncan Currie, Mike Flynn, Sarah Holman, and David Carter.

60th Anniversary (2015 to 2019)

In 2005 we became the resident theatre group at the Astor and produced our first show at our new venue Neighbourhood Watch (189), which was followed by the pantomime Dick Whittington (190). There was a dinner at 81 Beach St to celebrate the Guild’s 60th anniversary year. The Guild Players continued into their 61st year (2016) with An Experiment with an Air Pump (191) and Cinderella (192). In 2017, we started the year with our 5th production at the Astor with the very successful The Ghost Train (193).